The California Department of Public Health approved the county of San Bernardino’s application to advance reopening its economy according to its own plan on Saturday, May 23, and later the same day the county cleared the reopening of retail, dine-in restaurants and malls under prescribed safety measures.
In addition to the county’s actions, on Tuesday, May 26, the state announced that San Bernardino was one of 47 counties approved to reopen hair and nail salons and barbershops under state-specified coronavirus protocols.
The county was approved to move forward in the second phase of stage 2 of the California Reopening Plan after the Board of Supervisors and county public health department submitted an application for county variance Friday morning, May 22. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the program to allow counties to move ahead in stage 2 of the state plan under their own direction on Monday, May 18, after the governments of several counties pointed out that the governor’s original criteria to reopen hampered the recovery of larger counties.
On Friday, May 8, the county of San Bernardino sent Newsom a letter asking for greater flexibility to proceed with its reopening plan.
The governor’s initial criteria to permit individual counties to reopen beyond the statewide pace were adjusted on Monday, May 18, to better accommodate larger counties, such as San Bernardino, largest county in the nation.
The first list of criteria was based on countywide totals for COVID-19 cases, deaths and testing capacity, and the thresholds (such as zero deaths in 14 consecutive days) were deemed by many county governments catered to low-population counties and impossible for large counties.
The new list of criteria includes percentage-based targets.
Chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Curt Hagman shared that the county meets this readiness criteria, when announcing the county’s submittal of the variance and attestation form during a press conference on Friday.
The readiness criteria requires that counties have less than 8 percent positivity rate for COVID-19 tests, less than 5 percent hospitalization rate increase for 7-day period, minimum daily testing capacity to test 1.5 per 1,000 residents, testing availability for at least 75 percent of residents and at least 15 contact tracing staff per 100,000 residents and hospital capacity for a 35 percent surge in patients.
When reviewing and approving the application during a special meeting on Thursday, May 21, the Board of Supervisors expressed hopefulness that the state would review and approve the application and the county’s reopening plan with urgency and timeliness.
The county variance applications included data verifying that the county meets these requirements as well as the county’s reopening plan, letters from local hospitals confirming the data and approving the plan and a letter of approval from the board of supervisors.
As of Tuesday, May 26, San Bernardino was one of 46 of California’s 58 counties to be approved for accelerated reopening.
As part of the accelerated Stage 2 phase of the state recovery plan, destination retail stores, including shopping malls and swap meets and dine-in restaurants can now reopen in San Bernardino County. Businesses that plan to reopen are required to follow state guidance detailed at covid19.ca.gov/industry-guidance.
Before reopening under this plan businesses must perform a detail risk assessment, implement a site-specific protection plan, train employees on how to limit the spread of COVID-19 (including screening themselves), implement individual control measures and screening, implement disinfecting protocols and social distancing guidelines.
The county plan also includes industry sector specific guidelines created in participation with the county’s COVID Recovery Coalition.
Gyms, movie theaters, sports and entertainment venues, libraries, bars and wineries, hotels and motels, and public swimming facilities won’t be authorized to reopen until stages 3 and 4.
“San Bernardino County businesses and residents worked very hard and made tremendous sacrifices to make this moment possible,” said Hagman. “Your efforts to keep our community safe and healthy have paid off. We can now proceed significantly further toward resuming our normal lives.”
“This virus is still very present throughout our county, state and nation, so we must remain vigilant by physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and washing our hands often. But our goal of minimizing illness and building the capacity to protect the vulnerable, serve the sick, and track the virus in our communities has been achieved,” Hagman said.
To encourage businesses to continue in recommended precautions, the county included in its reopening plan a COVID Compliant Business Partner program in which businesses with one to 100 employees can earn a $2,500 grant and “COVID Compliant” certificate.
By posting the certificate in their window businesses can inform customers that they have taken all county-recommended steps for COVID-19 safety, as confirmed by county inspection.
This program also applies to religious organizations with less than 100 employees, as religious activities were also recently approved under social distancing guidelines.
Hagman characterized the program as the “carrot, not the stick” approach, rewarding businesses that do all that is recommended to reduce the spread of coronavirus.